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Clemson University Building Capacity Through Design

Building Capacity Through Design

English Learner Instruction: Building Capacity Through Design (CU Build ESOL) grant initiative aims to increase English learners (ELs)* instructional capacity in two, high-need school districts, engage caregivers in supporting ELs, and improve ELs’ achievement and self-efficacy.

CU Build ESOL is funded by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the National Professional Development Grant Program and Clemson University

*We often use the term English Learners (ELs) to refer to students whose native language is different from the language used in instruction in their schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2019; Vogt, 2020). We use this term as it was adopted by our funding partner, U.S. DOE, Office of English Language Acquisition, National Professional Development Grant Program, but we also acknowledge other terms used throughout the literature such as emergent bilingual (Proctor, Boardman, & Hiebert, 2016) and that used by our participating school districts, multilingual learner (ML).


    Clemson University College of Education was awarded a $2.1 million grant by The U.S. Department of Education to research the best approaches for teachers working with English learners.

    The main purpose of the grant English Learner Instruction: Building Capacity Through Design, (CU Build ESOL) is to increase instructional capacity in two, high-need school districts, engage caregivers in supporting multilingual learners (MLs), and in turn improve MLs’ achievement and self-efficacy.

    By the end of the grant period, 50 teachers will participate in professional development through Clemson’s Master’s in Literacy program, focusing on English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and becoming certified in both literacy and ESOL.

    The grant will cover all tuition, application fees and test fees associated with the degree program.

  • Goals

    Four main goals:

    • Two cohorts of 25 teachers participate in professional development to improve instruction for multilingual students through the master’s in literacy with a focus on ESOL at Clemson University.
    • The professional development activities incorporate evidence-based instructional practices, according to What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) for MLs standards with moderate evidence.
    • Teachers earn certifications to incorporate ESOL and literacy instruction based on assessment of student data.
    • Two cohorts of 25 caregivers in the community receive evidence-based strategies for promoting literacy.
  • District and Community Partnerships

    School Districts
    Researchers will spend five years (2021-2025) working with two school districts in South Carolina to discover effective approaches that K-12 educators studying literacy and ESOL can use to improve their teaching practices, student outcomes, and parent/caregiver involvement in student learning.

    Community Advisory Council
    The Community Advisory Council provides specialized expertise and avenues to work with and recruit caregivers, and is comprised of community leaders that help our team identify and recruit two cohorts of caregivers.

    Advisory Council Members

    Ivan Segura works as the Director of Multicultural Affairs at the SC Commission for Minority Affairs. He has over twenty years of experience in community activism, arts advocacy and grassroots leadership development for Latinos in SC. His volunteer advocacy work includes serving as the Executive Director of Palmetto Luna Arts, an organization dedicated to making a positive impact in society by fostering Latino arts and culture. He also serves on the ACLU National Board of Directors. In 2021, Mr. Segura received the Othli Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Mexican Government upon an individual. The award is administered by the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and recognizes individuals who have aided, empowered or positively affected the lives of Mexican nationals in the United States and other countries. Mr. Segura’s advocacy, arts and leadership activities place emphasis on the development of Latino youth and children as the future leaders of our community and nation.

    Alma Puente-Ruiz is a Social Worker for Lexington County School District 1. She also serves as the District's McKinney-Vento Liaison and as an advocate for multilingual students. Alma founded a district-wide food and clothing pantry and has developed after-school tutoring programs. She also runs summer programs for at-risk students. Alma attended the University of South Carolina where she graduated with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in Social Work. When she started her profession 32 years ago, there were no established services for the beginning of the burgeoning Hispanic population. She began advocating for them and has been a trailblazer working hard to ensure services such as interpretation in government offices, hospitals, clinics, and schools.  Prior to this, Alma had positions at Richland County School District 2, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), and Patrick B. Harris Psychiatric Hospital. She also served families of children with developmental disabilities as the head of BabyNet's Palmetto Health District while she was employed by SCDHEC in the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. Alma created the Skills for Life and Work program while she was employed at Richland 2. Since its inception in 2003, the program has helped multilingual families by teaching them English and other skills and by providing them with essential resources. Even after Alma left the district, this program is still running strong.  Alma has received national recognition in the form of the National Latina Leadership Award from the National Foundation for Women Legislators as well as several state honors such as the Outstanding Community Leader Award from the SC Hispanic Leadership Council and the One of Our Own award from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center which honors ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  She recently received the Distinguished Service Award from Carolina TESOL for contributions to the English as a Second Language profession.  

    Jennifer Rainville is the Education Policy Attorney at South Carolina Appleseed where she fights to end systemic barriers in education for all children in South Carolina. She works on Education Law issues such as school enrollment, school discipline, and special education matters. Prior to working at South Carolina Appleseed, Jennifer was the Lead Education Discipline Law Attorney and Probate and Heirs’ Property Unit Head at South Carolina Legal Services. She has kept hundreds of children in school with appropriate services to help them be successful in their education. Jennifer has spent her entire legal career fighting for low-income South Carolinians.

    Saraí Melendez is a community servant and visionary citizen. Born to immigrant parents from Mexico, she learned at a very young age the importance of advocacy and hard work. Sarai is a working-class mother and a first-generation college graduate. She is honored to be making history as the first elected Latina member of the Walhalla City Council, currently serving her first term. She graduated from Anderson University with her Bachelor's in Human Services with concentration in Behavioral Health. Through her varied interests and versatile approach, Sarai draws people together as a means of creating possibilities that make real impact. She is currently working with a non-profit organization called, Hispanic Alliance as their new Director of Advocacy and Public Policy.

    Vanessa Mota is the President and Founder of Mota Crosslinking Business Academy, a bilingual-multicultural institution with a global reach. Her professional achievements include South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs board member/advisor and Francis Marion University board member. In 2019, she was also presented at the OBO Minority Business Week on crosslinking markets and highlighted as Business of the Year by the City of Columbia. In 2022, Vanessa was presented with the FBI’s Director’s Leadership Award. The International Chamber of Entrepreneurs, located in Lima, Peru, recognized Vanessa with the esteemed 2022 International Business of the Year Award. Vanessa Mota is a graduate of Francis Marion University with a bachelor's degree in International Relations & Business Affairs. She is also a Multicultural Expert and Creator and Founder of South Carolina Latino/Hispanic Business Day and Proclamation where Hispanic business owners and entrepreneurs are recognized and awarded for their successful achievements in business.

  • Advisory Council Meetings

    Advisory Council Meetings


  • Master's Degree (Online)

    Teachers participate in online professional development activities through the online Ed. in Literacy program at Clemson, focusing on ESOL and becoming certified in both literacy and ESOL. The grant covers tuition for the M.Ed. and Praxis exam.


    English as a Second Language (ESOL) Certificate
    The ESOL Certificate courses are designed to help teachers meet the needs of students for whom English is not their dominant language. The goal is to prepare teachers to support student success in school and in society through the development of cultural awareness and English language proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Those completing the certificate may submit their transcripts to the SC Department of Education.

    The Literacy Teacher Certificate
    The Literacy Teacher Certificate allows K-12 teachers to complete required coursework for the Literacy Teacher endorsement. In completing the four required courses, graduates establish a strong basis in the basic foundations of literacy and are prepared to support the reading development of their K-12 classroom students. Those completing the certificate may submit their transcripts to the SC Department of Education.


    EDLT 8100 Foundations of Reading and Writing The theoretical and evidence-based foundations of reading and writing processes and instruction are examined, as well as the historical progression of reading instruction, and the role of professional learning, leadership and judgement.

    EDLT 8120 Assessment in Reading and Writing Examines a variety of literacy assessment tools and use of assessment results for planning and evaluating effective reading and writing instruction. Students select, administer, score, interpret and report literacy assessment results to a variety of audiences.

    EDLT 8130 Instructional Strategies K-12 teachers survey a range of instructional strategies for reading and writing and their theoretical and research underpinnings. All aspects of the reading and writing processes, assessment and instruction for diverse populations are addressed.

    EDLT 8140 Reading and Writing Instruction and Assessment for Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Students Examines cross-cultural theoretical dimensions, principles and research related to second language acquisition and provides a knowledge base for teaching the reading and writing processes to MLs. Instructional models, strategies and tools supporting ELLs and their learning needs are presented.

    EDLT 8170 Content Area Reading and Writing In-service teachers learn approaches for assessing, planning, implementing and supporting the reading and writing development of children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade content area subjects, with attention to culturally diverse populations.

    EDLT 8180 Organization, Administration, and Supervision in Literacy Focuses on planning, organizing, implementing, supervising and administering school-wide, comprehensive literacy programs. Emphasis is given to development of school-wide literacy program evaluation, accountability, improvement and support.

    EDLT 8220 Principles and Strategies for Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages Helps participants develop culturally and linguistically responsive classrooms with instructional strategies for teaching the language acquisition process within the context of academics supportive of MLs and their learning needs.

    EDLT 8230 Introduction to Linguistics Introduction to linguistics, including the subfields of syntax, morphology, phonology, semantics, pragmatics and sociolinguistics. Also includes the study of writing systems and applications to literacy, language acquisition, and language contact and change

    EDLT 8240 Practicum in the Instruction of ESOL Elementary & Secondary Learners Supervised observation and teaching experiences in teaching ESOL in cooperation with selected elementary and/or secondary schools.

    EDLT 8250 Cultural Diversity in the Classroom Examination of components of culture, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, linguistic identity, and gender, their impact on a student’s identity, and how this identity is tied to a student’s learning and academic achievement.

    In addition to completing the required coursework, teachers must also pass the PRAXIS exam and apply to the S.C. Department of Education to be certified. Please refer to the South Carolina Teacher Certification Manual for the most current certification requirements.

  • Schedule
  • Teachers

    Congratulations to the exceptional individuals in our grant’s inaugural teacher cohort graduating in December 2023! Your dedication, resilience, and passion have shone brightly throughout this transformative journey. The best is yet to come!


  • Caregivers
    Two cohorts of 25 caregivers will be invited to take a course on how to best support their students. Caregivers in the community will receive evidence-based strategies for promoting literacy.
    • Cohort #1 - Starts Spring 2024
    • Cohort #2 - Starts Spring 2025

    Cohort #1 Schedule

  • Cost
    The M.Ed. program is offered at no tuition for eligible teachers.
    • Funding does not include the cost of textbooks.
    The course is at no cost to caregivers.
    • The grant offers caregivers a stipend and a device to help complete online coursework.
  • Grant Research


    language & literatureHowell, E., Kaminski, R., & Pirolla, T. (2024). Reviewing school district and caregiver engagement: Toward building capacity to serve English Learners. Language and Literacy, 26(1), 58-78.


    Pennington, V., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Ferguson-Sams, N., Gazioglu, M., Mittapalli, K., Banerjee, A., & Cole, M. (2024). Multilingual teaching and digital tools: The intersections of new media literacies and language learning. Journal for Multicultural Education.  ://


    Ferguson-Sams, N., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., Gazioglu, M., Mittapalli K., & Banerjee, A. (2024). A crosswalk of digital storytelling and multilingual learning. Middle School Journal, 55(3), 27-36.


    Publications Under Review

    • Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Gazioglu, M., Sams-Ferguson, N., Pennington, V., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (under review). Modification-driven professional development for multilingual learners.
    • Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pirolla, T., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (under review). Needs assessment toward building district capacity of English Learners.
    • Pennington, V., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Ferguson, N., Gazioglu, M.,Mittapalli, K., Banerjee. (under review). Translanguaging with digital, collaborative writing: Early multilingual composers.
    • Gazioglu, M., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., Ferguson, N., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (under review) Academic development as interacting forces: Teachers, community members, and academics building capacity for multilingual learners.


    • Ferguson-Sams, N., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., Gazioglu, M. (2024, April). Multilingual voices: Examining student perceptions of literacy learning. Round table given at American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA. AERA
    • Hochstetter, N., Howell, E., & Kaminski, R. (2024, April). Exploring perceived competencies of multilingual elementary students and their teachers in literacy and academic content. Poster presentation given at American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA. AERA
    • Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Gazioglu, M., Ferguson-Sams, N., Pennington, V., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A., (2024, April). Modification-driven professional development for teaching multilingual learners. Round table given at American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA. AERA
    • Pennington, V., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Ferguson, N., Gazioglu, M.,  Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (2023, November). Participatory digital composition for multilingual learners. Paper presentation given at the 2023 Literacy Research Association Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA. LRA 2023
    • Ferguson-Sams, N., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., Gazioglu, M., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (2023, November). Digital storytelling: Accessing both critical and multi literacies for multilingual learners. Round table presentation given at the 2023 Literacy Research Association Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA. LRA 2023
    • Gazioglu, M., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., Ferguson, N., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (2023, November). Developing teachers, community members, and academics for multilingual learners. Paper presentation given at the 2023 Literacy Research Association, Atlanta, GA. LRA 2023
    • Gazioglu, M., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., & Ferguson, N (2023, October). Enhancing support for multilingual learners: Harnessing teachers' perspectives in designing a literacy course for caregivers. Paper presentation given at the 2023 Bilingualism Matters Research Symposium, Columbia, SC.
    • Pennington, V., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Ferguson, N., Gazioglu, M., Mittapalli, K., Banerjee, A & Cole, M.W. (2023, July). CALL crosswalk: The intersection of new media literacies and multilingual learning. Paper presentation given at International Science and Technology Conference, Rome, Italy.
    • Gazioglu, M., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., & Ferguson, N (2023, July). Building bridges: Ways to strengthen the relationship between teachers and caregivers of multilingual students. Conference presentation given at the 2023 South Carolina Multilingual Learner Program Conference, online.
    • Gazioglu, M., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., Ferguson, N., Mittapalli, K., & Banerjee, A. (2023, May). Modifying for capacity building of multilingual learner instruction. Poster presentation given at the 2023 Clemson University Research Symposium, Clemson, SC.
    • Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pirolla, T., Mittapalli, K., Banerjee, A., Pennington, V., & Ferguson, N. (2023, April). Needs assessment toward building district capacity for English Learners. Round table presentation given at American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference, Chicago, IL. AERA2023

    Grant Presentations

    • Gazioglu, M., Howell, E., Kaminski, R., Pennington, V., and Ferguson, N., Mittapalli, K., Banerjee, A. (2023, April). Modification for professional development of multilingual learner instruction. Poster presentation given at the 2023 OELA Director’s Meeting, Washington, DC. NPD Project Director’s 2023 Meeting
    • Howell, E., Kaminski, R., & Pirolla, T. (2022, April). Systematic review of partnership between school districts and caregivers of English Learners. Poster presentation given at the 2022 OELA Director’s Meeting, Washington, DC.
  • Awards and Recognitions

    Howell AwardDr. Emily Howell
    Clemson University, College of Education Nominee for 2024 Junior Researcher of the Year

    Dr. Howell was nominated for Clemson's 2024 Junior Researcher of the Year Award by the College of Education. 

    Her nomination stands as a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence and professionalism in research.

  • Educational Resources
  • The Grant Team

    rkaminski2.jpg Dr. Rebecca Kaminski - Principal Investigator/ Senior Lecturer

    Rebecca Kaminski is a faculty member in literacy at Clemson University and teaches undergrad and graduate courses relating to writing and literacy. Rebecca coordinates the Literacy MEd and the ESOL certification programs. Dr. Kaminski is the founding director of the Upstate Writing Project (UWP), an affiliate of the National Writing Project (NWP). In 2013-2021, she received two College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) grants to improve the teaching of academic writing and college readiness in 10 of South Carolina’s highest need rural school districts. Rebecca has published in major journals including the Research in the Teaching of English, Professional Development in Education, The Journal of Literacy and Technology, English Journal, and Journal of Research in Rural Education (SLIFE).


    esmothe.jpg Dr. Emily Howell - Co-Principal Investigator/Grant Research Director

    Emily Howell is a faculty member in literacy at Clemson University. Emily has taught English and writing at the secondary and collegiate level and currently teaches pre-service teachers and graduate students in education. Her research interests include multiliteracies, adolescent literacy, writing instruction, multilingual learners, and digital tools. Emily approaches research through partnerships with teachers using methodologies such as design-based research. Her research has been published in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, Journal of Literacy Research, The Reading Teacher, and Professional Development in Education.


    mihaela.jpg Dr. Mihaela Gazioglu - Caregiver Liaison

    Mihaela Gazioglu is an education associate at Clemson University. Mihaela has been teaching graduate and undergraduate courses focusing on linguistic and cultural assets that multilingual students bring to the classroom. Her current research interests include English as a second language, trilingual language acquisition and maintenance, language ideologies concerning multilingualism, and bilingual education. She has published in Teaching and Teacher Education Journal, Tennessee Literacy Journal, and Literacy Matters.


    tpennington.jpg Tory Pennington - Graduate Research Assistant (GRA)

    Tory Pennington is a Ph.D. student in the Language, Literacy and Culture program at Clemson University. As a GRA, she works to develop supplemental materials for teachers, provide insight as a former classroom/ ESOL teacher and advocate for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse students. Her research interests include writing development and instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse early learners.


    nicole-ferguson.jpg Nicole Ferguson - Graduate Research Assistant (GRA)

    Nicole Ferguson is a Ph.D. student in the Language, Literacy, and Culture program at Clemson University. Her role as a GRA includes communicating with M.Ed. cohort members, contributing to data analysis, developing surveys, and supporting grant team members with administrative and research assistance. Nicole’s research interests include multilingual learners, newcomers, and Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE).


  • External Evaluators

    kavita-mittapalli.jpg Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D.

    MNA is headed by Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D., who brings over 20 years of experience in conducting research and evaluation for various programs and initiatives. She worked at various consulting firms before founding MN Associates, Inc in 2005. Kavita started her career in Agricultural Science before becoming an Applied Sociologist and a mixed methodologist with an interest in research design. She brings her multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge to all the work she does at MNA.


    amlan-banerjee.jpg Amlan Banerjee, Ph.D.

    Amlan Banerjee, Ph.D. is a quantitative analyst at MNA. Amlan brings about 15 years of experience in statistics, multi-modeling, social networking analysis, and longitudinal analysis to MNA. He is adept in R, Machine Learning, and Python.


  • Contact Us

    Dr. Rebecca Kaminski           
    Principal Investigator/Grant Director and Coordinator of the MEd Literacy Program
    Senior Lecturer
    Department of Education and Human Development
    College of Education
    Clemson University
    Twitter: @krebecca

    Dr. Emily Howell
    Co-Principal Investigator/Grant Research Director, Assistant Professor
    Department of Education and Human Development
    College of Education
    Clemson University
    Twitter: @EmilySHowell

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